CDSn4006 Pluralism and Disagreement: Issues in Contemporary Democratic Theory

Faculty of Social Studies
Spring 2024
Extent and Intensity
1/1/0. 8 credit(s). Type of Completion: zk (examination).
Mgr. et Mgr. Jiří Baroš, Ph.D. (lecturer)
prof. PhDr. Jan Holzer, Ph.D. (lecturer)
Guaranteed by
prof. PhDr. Jan Holzer, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science – Faculty of Social Studies
Supplier department: Department of Political Science – Faculty of Social Studies
Mon 10:00–11:40 P22
Ability to read and understand academic literature, willingness to participate in in-class seminar debates. Familiarity with basic notions and debates in political philosophy and theory of democracy will definitely help.
Course Enrolment Limitations
The course is only offered to the students of the study fields the course is directly associated with.
fields of study / plans the course is directly associated with
Course objectives
The course provides an advanced introduction to some major issues in contemporary democratic theory (normative theory of democracy), with a special focus on the fact of moral, ethical, and political disagreement in liberal constitutional democracies. We will discuss hotly contested issues which appear both in public discourse and scholarly production, such as the (alleged) crisis of liberal democracy, nationalism and multiculturalism, secularism and political Islam, constitutionalism and democracy, constitutional patriotism, migration, political representation, or the separation of powers. By engaging recent theoretical literature dealing with these crucial issues, students are invited to critically assess competing visions of democracy, as well as different beliefs about particular problems that arise in a democratic polity. Critical diagnosis of the theoretical, conceptual and normative pillars of liberal democracy enables a more robust rethinking and justification of liberal democratic rule, and allows students to reflectively build up their own position vis-à-vis the respective topics.
Learning outcomes
Upon completing the course, students will have a good grasp of some advanced debates in contemporary democratic theory about the status of liberal democracy and/or its fundamental elements. They will be able to analyse main theoretical concepts and positions which appear at the heart of contemporary debates. Also, students will be able to critically evaluate the corresponding disagreements both in political and constitutional theory and within the wider public sphere. Students thus sharpen their ability to orientate themselves in the current intellectual milieu, without succumbing to simplifications, strawman-like arguments, or general ignorance.
  • Week 1. Introduction. Liberty, Liberalism, and Perfectionism Week 2. Secularism and Religious Liberty Week 3. Power, Authority, and Legitimacy Week 4. Constitutionalism and Democracy: Current Developments Week 5. Illiberalism, Populism and Technocracy Week 6. Nation, Nationalism, and Open Borders Week 7. National Holiday Week 8. Diversity and Mobility: Rethinking the Possibilities of Living Together Week 9. Discussion Session I. Topic: Nationalism, Constitutional Patriotism, and Multiculturalism Week 10. Automated Influence, Artificial Intelligence, and Democracy Week 11. Why Democracy? Week 12. Political Representation and the Quest for Democratic Innovations Week 13. Discussion Session II. Claim to be contested: “Legislated quotas on political representation of women are a desirable element of democratic politics.”
    required literature
  • Talisse, Robert. 2009. Democracy and Moral Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, chap. 1 (The Problem of Deep Politics), p. 11–41
  • Oberman, Kieran. (2019). Immigration as a Human Right. In: Sarah Fine, Lea Ypi et al. Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 32-53
  • Wall, Steven. (2009). Perfectionism in Politics: A Defense. In: Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. Eds. Thomas Christiano, and John Christman. London: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 99–118
  • Gaus, Gerald F. (2009). The Moral Foundations of Liberal Neutrality. In: Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. Eds. Thomas Christiano, and John Christman. London: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 81–98
  • Alexander, L. (2009). Constitutionalism. In: Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. Eds. Thomas Christiano, and John Christman. London: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 283–300
  • Mair, Peter. 2013. Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. London: Verso, 1–16
  • Ahdar, R., Leigh, I. (2015). Religious Freedom in the Liberal State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 23-84
  • Risse, Matthias (2024). Political Theory of Digital Age. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 47-72
  • Miller, David. (2019). Is There a Human Right to Immigrate? In: Sarah Fine, Lea Ypi et al. Migration in Political Theory: The Ethics of Movement and Membership. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 11-30
  • Caramani, Danielle. 2017. Will vs. Reason. The Populist and Technocratic Forms of Political Representation and Their Critique to Party Government. American Political Science Review 111(1): 54–67
  • Miller, D. (2006): Nationalism. In Dryzek, J. S. – Honnig, B. – Phillips, A. (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 529–543
  • Muller, J.-W. (2007). Constitutional Patriotism, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 46–92
  • Beetham, David (2013). The Legitimation of Power, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 3–41
  • Waldron, J. (2016). Political Political Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 23–44
  • Chambers, Simone (2024). Contemporary Democratic Theory. Cambridge: Polity, 151-176, 198-217
  • Deneen, Patrick (2018). Why Liberalism Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 21–42, 179–198
  • Benn, Claire, and Seth Lazar (2022). What’s wrong with automated influence. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52.1 (2022): 125-148
  • TALISSE, Robert B. Engaging political philosophy : an introduction. First published. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. xvii, 176. ISBN 9780415808323. 2016. info
    recommended literature
  • The Oxford handbook of political theory. Edited by John S. Dryzek - Bonnie Honig - Anne Phillips - Robert E. Goodin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. xiii, 883. ISBN 9780199548439. 2006. info
Teaching methods
The teaching method will be short lectures followed by seminar discussions (the two parts will not be always strictly separated). Students are encouraged to actively participate by posing questions of clarification and bringing up topics for discussion. They are expected to read the assigned reading(s) for each seminar carefully and prepare their own comments and questions, even if they do not submit a position paper for a given topic. The point of the two Discussion sessions is to improve the ability of students to summarize an issue, defend a particular interpretation, and evaluate critically arguments of their counterparts in the course of an open in-class exchange.
Assessment methods
The final grade will be calculated as a composite of the following criteria: (1) Position papers Students are expected to read the assigned reading(s) for each seminar (“core readings”), in order to be able to follow the teacher’s explication, as well as to take part in the in-class discussions. Optional texts (“suggested readings”) are provided for those who develop deeper interest in the given topic. Based on the readings, students are required to write at least three short position papers (approximately 1-2 standard pages each) on three different seminar topics. If there are two or more required readings, students should briefly summarise one of them and then proceed to discuss, criticize etc. only selected issues (depending on one’s preferences). Students are thus encouraged to actively participate in the seminars, based on their preparation for the class. To enable the flow of the discussion, papers thus should have three clearly identified sections (this is a strict requirement): 1) Summary of the main points of the assigned reading(s), entitled “Summary”; 2) Critical discussion of the most interesting or most questionable parts of the readings, entitled “Discussion/Critique”; 3) Questions of clarification and/or questions for in-class discussion entitled “Questions”. We emphasise that the discussion section, linked, ideally, to the subsequent questions, should represent the most substantial part of the position paper – i.e. PPs that are merely summaries of core readings, or do not follow this structure, or contain different points scattered throughout the text, will be assessed accordingly or even rejected (in such a case they will not count towards the student’s overall grade). The questions asked shall relate to the readings or the topic as such; also, it makes little sense to inquire about things no one can really know at this time (such as what is the future of democracy). Also, please avoid asking questions which have been clearly answered by the authors of the assigned readings, or the answers to which are two Google clicks removed from you. Each position paper will receive 0–3 points. Late submissions and submissions that do not meet the minimal requirements of quality and structure will not be accepted for assessment. Students are free to submit more than three position papers during the term; however, the maximum points achievable for PPs is 15 (i.e., students can get 0-6 bonus points). Any extra position papers above that will not count towards the final grade (although they will be always useful for in-class discussion). Position papers shall be uploaded to the Study Materials -> Homework Vaults section in the Information System no later than Friday, 3pm. (2) Classroom participation (3) Discussion sessions There will be two debate sessions during the term; students are expected to take part in both of them. The sessions are intended as a toy judicial hearing, providing the opportunity to exchange reasons about a controversial political topic which has respectable philosophical background. For each session three groups will be created – two parties to the debate itself and a referee panel. The discussing groups will defend, respectively, affirmative and negative answers to the question, while referees will steer and preside over the contest. Students must create groups no later than the end of the third week of the term. Ten days weeks before the debate (i.e., on Friday, April 5th, May 3rd), both the PRO and CON groups will submit a six-page report with an outline of their main arguments. Reports are to be uploaded to the Information system of MU (Study Materials–>Homework Vault). It is sufficient to present the main points and sources of your arguments here, without engaging in a detailed explication; however, the report must be given a systematic form. In the first section, more general and theoretically anchored argumentative frameworks should be developed, while in the second and longer section, it should be applied to the subject matter at hand. Five days before the debate (i.e., on Wednesday, April 10th, May 8th), upon having studied the report by the opposing group, both parties will prepare at least three questions to be posed to the opposing group, both in advance and during the debate. These questions should focus on the most problematic elements of the argumentation proposed by the opposing group to expose inadequacies and be detailed enough to spark discussion. The questions must be again uploaded to the Homework Vault. The points presented need to be theoretically anchored, correspond to the facts of the case at hand, and follow the guidelines of a reasonable argumentative exchange. Before the debate, one referee will be elected as the chair of the session. The chair decides on the order and duration of argumentative slots for each group, and generally steers the debate. The chair as well as other referees will prepare their own questions for the discussing parties. Again, their two questions for each group are to be uploaded to the Homework Vault five days before the debate. Besides steering, the main task of the referees is to evaluate the performance of the competing parties, based on both the reports and the debate. Questions from the referees should be posed by other members of the panel besides the chair, and each member of the referee group should be prepared to take over the role in chair in the case of any technical complication or absence. The debate starts with a ten-minute exposition by each group (in an order selected by the chair), based on the submitted reports. Each group will select one person who will present the exposition, and a different person to answer each question posed by the opposing group. Each person in the group should be prepared to answer all the questions as they may be asked to do so in case of absence. After the introductory presentations, critical exchange ensues, steered by the referees. The questions prepared by both parties and by the referees will be posed and answered in turn. This will continue until the referees declare an end to the debate. At the end (no later than fifteen minutes before the end of the lesson), each of the opposing parties should have elected one member who will have two minutes to summarize their main points in a final speech, taking into consideration the contents of the debate. The referees then leave the class and take a vote (after deliberation if necessary), determining the winner. If there is a parity of votes, the chair’s vote is decisive. While the verdict is announced publicly, immediate justification is NOT required and will be provided in the referees’ report later. Within one week of the debate, the referees shall prepare a seven-page justification/explanation of their decision. Dissenting referees, if there are any, may prepare their separate reports, including those who concur with the decision yet are unsatisfied with the reasoning in the official justification. It is important that the report should not simply be a summary of the arguments presented, but rather a critical discussion of why one substantive position is better than the other. Of course, you can, and should, also reference the literature relevant for the topic of the debate. Participation in both debates is mandatory, i.e., a necessary condition for completing the course. The winning party will receive five points, the points received by losing party and referees will depend on the quality of their argumentation and overall performance. (4) Final written exam There will be a final written exam consisting of four questions, three of which must be answered; questions will be based both on the required readings and the contents of the lectures and in-class discussions. Each answer will be awarded 0–5 points (i.e., max. 15 points overall). Length of the exam: 45 minutes. All exam slots will take place during the exam period. Evaluation Summary The final grade will be calculated as a composite evaluation consisting of four parts: 1) Assessment of position papers (0–9 points; plus 0-6 bonus points) 2) Discussion session (0–10 points) 3, Class Participation (0–6 points; plus 0-2 bonus points) 4) Result of the final exam (0–15 points) The maximum is 40 points; in order to pass, students must collect at least 24 points (60% of the maximum). Grading scheme: A (Excellent): 40–37 points B (Very Good): 36–33 points C (Good): 32–30 points D (Satisfactory): 29–27 points E (Sufficient): 26–24 points F (Failed): less than 24 points
Language of instruction
Further comments (probably available only in Czech)
Study Materials
The course is taught annually.
Teacher's information
Most up-to-date information is always to be found in the course syllabus in the Study Materials.
The course is also listed under the following terms Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025.
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